"This being said, there appears to be a big disconnect between Saturday night and Sunday morning — Christians are taught not to alter their virginity until they reach the altar, but most are not taking the lessons to heart."

Premarital Sex vs. Religious Beliefs

Kelly Bingham
Standard-Examiner correspondent

Utah February 2007 - A study revealing what MTV has been preaching for 25 years is causing dissonance in American culture.

In January, The Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based research organization, published "Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954-2003." This study, funded by Planned Parenthood, claims that nine out of 10 people "did it" before saying "I do."

"Our finding that 95 percent of Americans have premarital sex was based on data from a U.S. government survey that used widely accepted techniques for obtaining a representative sample of Americans," said Lawrence B. Finer, director of Domestic Research for The Guttmacher Institute. "This is reality-check research. Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades."

This study is creating a stir because, according to an August 2006 Baylor University survey, 82 percent of Americans identify themselves as Christians.

"In order to be a member of the church, you have to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, placing yourself under his teachings," said the Rev. Dr. Richard Minnich of the First Presbyterian Church in Ogden.

"(Jesus) taught we should not be involved in an adulterous or fornication relationship."

Christians follow the teachings of the Bible, which promotes chastity and prohibits premarital or extramarital sex. Monsignor Victor Bonnell of the Saint Rose of Lima Catholic Church in Layton describes the Christian stance on sex.

"We have the commandment, ‘Though shalt not commit adultery," he said. "That is an overriding and far-reaching commandment. It takes in all the sexual aspects of one's life. It's not a church idea, but has to do with the Lord himself.

"Every single person is under the law of chastity. This means that members of the church should engage in no sexual relations before marriage."

Dr. David C. Dollahite, a professor of Family Life at Brigham Young University who researches marital fidelity in religious couples, explains the importance of chastity to Christianity.

"There is often this naturalistic idea that human beings are simply animals and that's why they have sex when they can," he said. "Most religions believe God has ordained sexuality to create new life and should be limited only to marriage."

This being said, there appears to be a big disconnect between Saturday night and Sunday morning — Christians are taught not to alter their virginity until they reach the altar, but most are not taking the lessons to heart.

"First of all, the study didn't shock me," Bonnell said of the findings that say nine out of 10 people have sex before marriage.

"But I do think it is still too high a number. I think the actual number is very high, don't get me wrong. But I would estimate the actual number is six or seven out of 10. But that's for everyone, not just Catholics."

Dollahite's research concurs with Bonnell's views.

"The figure is probably an overestimate, but it is not much lower than 85 percent," Dollahite said. "The study also didn't take into consideration that some percentage of people had sex in a nonconsensual way — either raped or pressured."

But even if the figure is around 85 percent, why are so many Bible-believing Christians leaving their beliefs at the chapel doors?

"Our societal standards of premarital sex have changed drastically in the last 50 years. Now it's almost expected, and if you haven't done it, people wonder what's wrong with you," Minnich said.

"Our media portrayals take a lot of license in regards to sexual behavior, so with those influences on people, I'm surprised the results weren't 10 out of 10. I don't think people have done everything that they can to provide themselves with the resources for resisting temptations.

"They don't pray, read Scriptures or do positive fellowshipping like they should. They struggle because they don't have the means in place to resist."

Bonnell has his own theory on what's causing the conflict between faith and actions that is pervasive in all Christian sects.

"I think that the basic sin here is excessive individuality," he said. "Everyone thinks that he or she is the final norm for making moral decisions. The government can't tell me what to do, the state, the church can't tell me ‘no.' We have this bloated, exaggerated idea of individual perfection."

Bonnell disagrees with the assumption that no one saves themselves for their marriage bed.

"There are a lot of people who are following (chastity). A lot of people do their very best to lead moral lives. I hear their confessions, and I am sometimes amazed at how well many people do and how good some people are," he said.

"And the sacrifices they make — I'm humbled when I see them living their moral normal lives."

But if only 5 percent to 15 percent of Christians are obeying the "law of chastity," why should the church keep preaching morality?

As some churches are allowing homosexuals to be ordained to ministerial positions, would it be better for the church to update to reflect other contemporary standards?

"The Presbyterian Church has been accused of (changing beliefs) in the past," Minnich said. "The church teaches what it thinks is right, and it isn't going to let a study like that affect that.

"There's nothing that God has asked us to do that isn't for our own good. Why do parents push proper nutrition, even though kids eat junk food? Even if people make mistakes, that doesn't mean we should relax our standards or give people a way not to follow them."

Bonnell doesn't believe the Catholic Church should be affected by the study's statistics, either.

"We don't teach morality on the basis of a democratic election," he said. "The church must teach what's right. We can't say mores are changing and people are changing, therefore we're going to change.

"God's way was for Christianity to be raised up from common standards to a higher level of living and a high level of judging deeds and thoughts."

Dollahite also believes churches should maintain high standards because of societal implications.

"A study was conducted with 3,700 American teenagers of all different degrees of religion," he said.

"The study found that kids with higher religious ideals have higher self-esteem, do better in school, are less likely to abuse substances, are more likely to graduate from high school, are less likely to have children out of wedlock and are less likely to commit suicide or be depressed.

"I hope that religious institutions will take the Guttmacher data with a grain of salt and not give up on their high ideals."

Just having the standards in place benefits mankind, he said, because it prompts many to strive to improve themselves.

"Most people believe that God has provided them with commandments and standards to help them become what they were created to be. Believers feel bad they aren't doing better, but they feel better knowing God is merciful, kind and patient with them."